What is the most dramatic event in "The Leap" by Louise Eldrich?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most dramatic event in "The Leap" is the mother's rescue of the daughter from her burning bedroom.

While the leap of Mrs. Avalon under the circus tent is, indeed, dramatic, it is not described with the amount of detail that is present in the daughter's narration of her own rescue by her mother. With so much description of the incident and the daring of the mother's leap onto fragile tree branches, added to the fact that the daughter was successfully rescued, there seems to be a more heightened emotional impact upon the reader. Added to this, the daughter/narrator ties the first leap of her mother to the rescue of herself that she always recalls as she sits sewing in the rebuilt house where her childhood bedroom once was.

I would...tend to think that all memory of double somersaults and heart stopping catches had left her arms and legs were it not that for fact that sometimes...I hear the crackle, catch a whiff of smoke from the stove downstairs and suddenly the room goes dark....and I am sewing with a needle of hot silver, a thread of fire.

The sewing room of the narrator was once her bedroom that caught fire when her father may have inadvertently emptied warm coals that he presumed cold into a wooden or cardboard container.  While the parents were out for the evening, the baby-sitter, unfortunately, had fallen asleep in the den, and she awoke to find the stairway already cut off by flames.

When the narrator's parents returned home, volunteers had already drawn water from the fire pond and were trying to wet the outside of the house and then go inside and rescue the narrator. However, they did not realize that there was only one stairway and it was ablaze, cutting off the bedroom above. Then, when someone tried to climb the extension ladder, it broke. The noise awakened the narrator, who touched her door and realized the fire was outside it. She rolled up the rug and shoved in under the door; then she waited.
By this time the narrator's mother realized that there was no rescue; she looked at the tree and saw only a narrow branch that just "scraped the roof." Appearances suggested even a squirrel would have difficulty jumping onto the roof from this branch; however, the mother reached a different decision.

Her mother stripped off her dress and climbed what was left of the ladder in her underclothes. She reached for branches and inched along on her stomach to a bough that curved above the narrow branch over the roof. Balancing on the bough, she leaped, caught the narrow branch that broke in her hands, but only after she had already vaulted toward the edge of the house's roof.

I didn't see her leap...only heard the sudden thump and looked out my window. She was hanging by the back of her heels from the new gutter we had put in that year, and she was smiling.

The mother tapped gently on the daughter's window. When the girl opened it, her mother told her to prop it open with a stick. Then she swung down, and crawled into the bedroom. She picked up her daughter, held her girl in her lap, and with toes pointed downward, the two leaped toward the target on the firefighter's net.

I know that she's right. I knew it even then. As you fall there is time to think.

This is what the mother has always explained to her daughter about her own leap when she was young with her first husband as the Flying Avalons. No one but an experienced trapeze artist could accomplish such life-saving feats. Indeed, the narrator owes her life to her mother.

Read the study guide:
The Leap

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